Kennebunk voters say ‘no’ to recall by 3-1

Kennebunk voters on March 29 overwhelmingly voted to reject a decision to recall RSU 21 school board principal Tim Stentiford. There were 51 votes in favor of the recall and 1,716 against the measure. Photo by Tammy Wells

KENNEBUNK — Voters sent a strong message Tuesday, March 29 against the recall effort of Regional School Unit 21 Principal Timothy Stentiford.

The vote was 1,716 against the recall, 516 votes in favor and five blank ballots, according to figures released Tuesday night by Kennebunk Town Clerk Merton Brown.

The no side won by a margin of more than 3 to 1 among those who voted. A total of 2,232 of Kennebunk’s 10,123 registered voters (22%) cast ballots, a good turnout compared to other special elections but dismal overall, said Brown, who pegged turnout at the presidential election 89 percent, annual municipal meeting 30 percent, and gubernatorial election about 70 percent.

“Our community has sent a clear message, and how we move forward matters,” said RSU 21 Board Chair Art LeBlanc. “We will continue to focus on providing a safe, in-person learning environment that meets the specific needs of all students during the ongoing pandemic.”

“Mr. Stentiford is one of the members of the 12-person board of directors, with members elected from the towns of Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport,” LeBlanc said. failed by more than 3:1. Although an individual board member was subject to this election, the school board acts as one body, as required by law.

Stentiford’s three-year term expires on June 30. Attempts to reach Stentiford failed.

A group of people led by Kennebunk resident and former school board member Norman Archer officially launched the recall effort in the last quarter of 2021. It was intended to recall Stentiford and LeBlanc, but the petitioners did not met the signature requirement to place LeBlanc’s name. on the reminder notice. The petition to recall Stentiford had just enough – 665 valid signatures from registered voters to vote in Kennebunk.

Tuesday’s vote showed fewer ballots (516) cast in favor of the recall than the 665 supporters got to get the issue on the ballot.

“At the end of the day, people vote with their feet,” Archer said. “If parents continue to withdraw their children, if teachers continue to leave at a record rate, and if the many administrative hirings extend far beyond the dwindling federal support, taxpayers will feel it for years. Only then will we know the full impact on the community of this RSU 21 advice. Of this I am certain: we are all better off for this exercise in the democratic process. Voters are paying attention now.

The affidavit that led to the issuance of dismissal petitions contained these themes, citing the promoters’ assertion that “Stentiford’s role in negotiating the most recent teacher contract and his personal contribution to growing administrative expenses of the board caused a loss of confidence in his ability to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the office.

The affidavit set out its own calculations of the departure of the teaching staff and indicated that Stentiford was one of the leaders in the contract negotiations. He was talking about an increase in human resource spending in the district.

LeBlanc, in a Nov. 23 letter to the community on behalf of the school board, said pre-pandemic data in Maine showed average annual teacher turnover was between 7 and 10 percent, “while RSU 21 had a turnover of 5.8% over the 16 months. of the COVID-19 pandemic, an excellent retention rate in any environment.

Archer, in a letter seeking support before releasing the recall affidavit, argued that Superintendent Terri Cooper was unfit for the position. “It’s time to take the only action we voters have: remove de facto board leaders from office and replace them with people who will do the only job they were elected to do: manage – and possibly replacing – the superintendent,” he wrote. .

In January, the school district filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Kennebunk, claiming it lacked the authority to recall RSU trustees. York County Superior Court Judge Wayne Douglas ruled on March 8 that it did.

“…. the court finds that the City of Kennebunk, by virtue of its charter and consistent with both the principles of self-government and the provisions of Titles (Maine Statutes) 20-A and 30-A, has power, under its charter, to hold recall elections for RSU’s 21 board directors,” Douglas wrote in his 13-page decision.

The Upstanders for RSU 21 group, which had rallied against the recall, released a statement after the vote.

“It is clear from the outcome of the vote that the citizens of Kennebunk value their democracy and will take action to protect their democratically elected community members from baseless accusations,” Christian Babcock wrote. “Voters saw through the recall trickery and made their voices heard at the ballot box. The Upstanders will continue to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the community and will challenge all forms of hatred and exclusion, overt and subversive, seen in our greater community. We hope that the community will resolutely move on to this event and that citizens will put their future efforts into productive measures to make the town of Kennebunk a more inclusive and welcoming community.

Rachel Phipps, of Upstanders for RSU 21 and former principal of RSU 21, said Stentiford prevailed because of the way he conducted his work on the school board.

“Tim did it,” Phipps said. “He did it by being an incredible public servant. We helped. We prevailed. I look forward to pouring our incredible energy and spirit into changing the recall process in the Kennebunk Charter, so it never happens again. And to work together for a positive transformation.

Kennebunk’s charter states: “Any 25 qualified voters in the city may file with the city clerk an affidavit containing the name of the official sought to be removed and a statement of specific facts supporting the grounds for recall. “, and goes on to outline the process. No other instructions on the facts appear in the document.

LeBlanc spoke about the subject at a board meeting earlier in March. “The city charter and RSU 21 policy should be developed to establish a defined and fair recall process,” he said. “As Chairman of the Board of RSU 21, I stand ready to work with the selected Board to achieve this goal.”

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